The Role of the Women in the Gospel of John
It is no secret that in the Gospel of John there is a focus on Discipleship. However, what is not so obvious is the repeating theme that surfaces when you focus your attention to the encounters and relationships that Jesus had with the many different women mentioned throughout the gospel. In this short paper, we will review the events surrounding a few special women, including Jesus’ mother, the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, Lazarus’ sisters: Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdala, while identifying a similar theme and special role attributed to women according to John.
The first woman mentioned in the gospel of John is none the less than Jesus’ mother herself, Mary. In Chapter 2 during the wedding at Cana, it was Mary that was the one to identify the people in need, as you might recall, they were out of wine. It was Mary, who approached Jesus, interceding, stimulated Jesus to begin his public ministry. Through her intercession and the miracle that was to follow with the transformation of the water into wine, Jesus was revealed, and his disciples began to believe in him. It was through the efforts of Mary that brought others to see Jesus’ glory and brought others to believe in him.
The next woman to be mention in the gospel is the Samaritan woman at the well. (Chapter 4) As you may recall, the Samaritan woman, shocked by the fact that Jesus, a Jew, began speaking to her, asked her for a drink, and then proceeded to teach her about living water. Jesus, shocking the woman, knew everything about her, a woman he had never met before. Jesus also revealed to her that he was the anointed one, the messiah. The woman, immediately after encountering Jesus, went to the town people to share what she had witnessed. She asked that the town people go to Jesus, to experience what she had experienced. The town people did as she asked, and many of the Samaritans began to believe in Jesus due to the woman’s testimony. She united the town people to Jesus, they invited him to stay with them, and even more began to believe in him because of his teachings. Jesus chose to reveal himself to the Samaritan woman who could act as a bridge between himself and the local people. It was through her efforts, encouraging the town people to meet Jesus, that numerous others could experience him and develop their own relationships with Jesus.
The next woman that is mentioned is in Chapter 8, the woman caught in adultery. The Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who was teaching in the temple area, claiming that she was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Although asking Jesus what to do with her, quoting the Law of Moses and the need to stone her, the Scribes and Pharisees were actually testing Jesus so they could hopefully bring charges against him. It was at this time that Jesus stated “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” I can only imaging the power of these words, words of such truth, coming from the one who is truth and the reaction of crowd. The crowd went away one by one, beginning with the elders. Once again it was a woman that Jesus utilized to bring people together to hear his words. It was this woman who acted as bridge between to local people and Jesus, enabling his words of truth, understanding, and compassion to resonate among them.
In chapter 11, we see the appearance of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. The sisters sent word to Jesus of there ill brother stating “Master, the one you love is ill.” Jesus responded by saying “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus waited until Lazarus had been dead for four days to arrive at the place where Mary and Martha were. In the meantime, many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. Martha approached Jesus and stated “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise – I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus then called for Mary. Mary responding to the request, left the village to see Jesus who was near by, and many of the village people followed her. Once joined by Mary and the followers, Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus asked that the stone covering the opening be removed, and when questioned by Martha, he responded by stating “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God.” In front of the crowd, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out. It was also written that many of the Jews who had come to see Mary and seen what Jesus had done, began to believe in him. Once again it was these two women that brought the people to Jesus, allowing the people to see the glory of Jesus through the miracle of raising the dead, hearing the truth of his words, and then to believe in the Savior themselves.
In chapter 20, after Jesus had previously been laid in the tomb, on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala arrived at the tomb in the early morning and saw that the stone had been removed. She ran to inform Peter and John. Immediately Peter and John ran to see that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Jesus used Mary to bring the two disciples to see that he had not remained dead.
Later in Chapter 20, sitting outside of the tomb, Mary of Magdala was weeping. As Mary looking into the tomb, she saw two angels in white sitting inside. As she began to speak to the angels, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. Although she did not recognize the resurrected Jesus initially, after he spoke to her she could see clearly that it was the risen Lord. Jesus directed her to go to the disciples and to notify them that he was going to his Father and their Father, and to his God and their God. Mary did as she was told and informed the disciples that she had seen the Lord and relayed what she was instructed to say. It was a woman that Jesus chose to reveal his glorified body to first. It was Mary that he used to relay the message that he had risen from the dead.
So what patterns or themes have appeared in the varied situations and events as described by the apostle John? We have just reviewed many examples of Jesus consistently revealing to women his glory, and the women responding by informing others what they have seen and witnessed while invoking others to see for themselves. Through the efforts of these women, others were brought into contact with Jesus, and had come to believe and experience a relationship with him. Not all of the women were perfect, in contrary, some we clearly noted as sinners as evident with the Samaritan women and the women caught in adultery. However, there is a pattern of Jesus choosing to exhibit miraculous behavior in front of these women, and using these women to bring others to believe, conveying his truth. Clearly, there is a pattern of Jesus using woman as a bridge of connection between everyday people and himself. How relevant is this message today? The answer to this question will probably lie within another paper to be researched and written, another thought to be pondered, and another everyday experience to be reflected upon. However, I must say, I do see many women, especially my wife, who unknowing is called upon frequently to be that bridge, connecting Jesus to everyday people so that they can develop their own personal relationships with our Lord and Savior. As the apostle John must have already known, there is something that is very special about the role of a woman in connection to Jesus.
I don't by any means consider myself a femanist, or supporter of femanism, especially since I'm not really sure what that actually means today. But I do see the unique beauty and qualities in woman, nothing like a man, not intended to be like a man, but a purity in itself..